By Arefayné Fantahun
The Ethiopian Semayawi (Blue Party) once hailed as a young and dynamic party has been in the limelight for the wrong reasons. Dispute over leadership and resources is rocking the party. The party’s secretary general, Yilkal Getnet and other top members were made to leave the party, according to one faction. The decision followed the election of Yeshiwas Assefa as leader of the party by the splinter group which Yilkal said was an unfair challenge to his position as leader.
The recent development shows Yilkal is not ceding, saying that he is the genuine leader of the party, only that some splinter members along with the government and National Electoral Board of Ethiopia are trying to oust him, as they did to other parties, he argues. (The Ethiopian regime has long specialized in bribing some members of the party until a split occur or key members defect to the ruling party. Such is the widely believed case of Ayele Chamiso, put by the regime, as leader of Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party, after the true leaders were side-lined).
Since the Blue party’s formation following the political upheavals of the Arab Spring of 2011, Yilkal was heralded for his leadership and ability to mobilize financial and other supports from home and abroad in the mission to make it a viable alternative to the dominant ruling party. Thus it was not hard to see why the regime, mindful of the Blue Party’s potential as focus of political opposition, wanted to destroy it as a political force. In 2015 election Yilkal was told he had lost out in lottery that was organized by the electoral authorities because there were so many candidates in certain constituencies when he had sought to be a parliamentary candidate. In recent weeks, the scope and intent of regime’s suspected involvement in sowing division has also come into sharper focus.
When few weeks ago Yilkal Getnet showed up representing the party, in negotiation with the ruling party, he was unceremoniously kicked out in the middle of the dialogue, as the government controlled National Electoral Board of Ethiopia decided that it was Yeshiwas Assefa who could represent the party, conforming initial presumption that Yeshiwas was becoming the tool of the regime.
This week Yeshiwas came on the Australia based SBS Amharic service to attack Yilkal, saying that he and his subordinate, Sileshi Feyisa were fired for swindling around three million birr. Hence, the two were fired only for that, not for ideological nor policy differences, he said.
Yilkal, who maintains his innocence, said he was victim of political coup d’état, part of an intricate ploy from the government. “This is nothing new. The regime has already done that to other parties, finding sympathizers and forming splintered groups, and awarding them with recognitions,” Yilkal told the SBS radio. Yilkal called the money embezzlement claims utterly ridiculous.
One observer who follows the opposition movement in the country told Ethiopia Observer that there is strong presumption in favour of the puppet character of the Yeshiwas group. “The way they ousted Yilkal and the way they are courting the government are sure signs that they were bought by the regime.” “Yilkal has the courage to say no when it matters. He has shown many young people that the TPLF is something that we can defeat if we fight hard. I give him credit for that,” the same source said.
Though these allegations and counter-allegations obviously would not help for the already existing sentiment of low trust levels in the current opposition politics, it has not stopped another figure, Girma Seifu, former member the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) and the country’s sole opposition MP from 2010 until 2015, from deciding to set up a brand-new political party.
Girma is almost finalizing the formation of the party, named as the Progressive Citizens’ Movement, that he says would work to fix the current political impasse of the country.
The 50-year-old activist on his final way to gather at least 1500 signatures required to get registered as party and hold founding congress. For the moment, no names of other in the leadership role are given but indicated that movement would comprise some former leaders UDJ and fresh blood with university education.